I recently read Never too late: A welcome to those who learn to surf as adults and it made me think.
The thing about coming to surfing later in life (I started at age 26) is that you can’t care what people think of how you look. Because the fact is, you will look absolutely ridiculous… and for a long time.
There is, unfortunately, just no way around this. Sometimes you just have to swallow the ego and go for it.
Often, I will paddle out and I will be unremarkable, but I also won’t draw attention to myself. I think I can say that after months of surfing daily, I have my paddle down pat, I know to arch the small of my back just so, and keep my feet together for greater paddling efficiency – but actually, the real reason I do all of those things is so that I look a little less kooky than I otherwise would.
However, as soon as I start paddling for a wave, I feel as if I become unmasked in the water; all the other surfers around me can see that I have pitiful little paddle power, that I am attempting to get onto waves I have not a shadow of a hope of catching, that I’m sitting too far out back (or to the right, or in someone’s way). And they will see that once I do (finally!) catch that wave, I will either face-plant nicely into the ocean rising up to greet me, or stand awkwardly, with no discernible “surf style“; something which can only be honed from years of after school surf sessions. Finally, as I’m slogging my way out back again, I get out paddled by a grom. Why didn’t I grow up by the sea?!
It is also frustrating to start from the bottom. Let’s face it, us “adult beginners” are the bottom of the food chain, only slightly better (but no less annoying) than seaweed to experienced surfers. Learning a new skill is par for the course when you’re a kid, everything is new. But when you’re required to throw dignity and basic coordination out the window to learn a new sport, it can be – well – somewhat humiliating. Think about when you take a tumble, for example. When I was a kid, I used to fall down all the time (okay, maybe I was just particularly clumsy) but falling would not phase me at all. You pick yourself up and continue madly dashing around playing “catch-and-kiss“. But think about when you take a tumble as an adult – how utterly mortifying. Learning to surf is like a series of tumbles, performed in front of other surfers who have long forgotten what it’s like to take a tumble, in a macho and territorial surf culture.
However, I can also see why us adult beginners have an advantage too. I certainly appreciate my time in the water a lot more than my seasoned surfing-since-grom friends. When we paddle out together, they’ll often complain that the waves are too small, too mushy or too wind-blown for it to be enjoyable, because they can’t execute their neatly timed cutbacks or floaters. But, for the most part, I am just glad to be out there, sea spray in my hair, limbs dangling in the water, and the sun on my cheeks. And it is still a pleasant, fist-pumping joy for me anytime I can ride a wave down the line. I get to enjoy so many “firsts” that I think I appreciate much more as an adult than I would have as a kid. I hope you feel the same way.
So get out there, swallow the ego – because it’s worth it!